For the past two thousand years, we’ve developed dozens of theories as to why Jesus had to suffer and die on the cross to forgive our sins. The ransom theory says Jesus had to die to pay our debt of sin. The substitution theory is that Jesus took our rightful place on the cross. Propitiation says God’s wrath had to be satisfied so Jesus took the brunt of God’s holy anger instead of us. I could go on. There are lots of atonement theologies.
The New Testament itself uses legal language and sacrificial imagery, military terms and financial lingo, all kinds of different ways to try to explain what Jesus did on the cross. But in Scripture, in the Story, it’s not about what Jesus had to do, it’s only about what Jesus did. The Bible is not explaining what God had to do in order to save us, it’s interpreting what God did.
He died for us.
He died a terrible death.
What happened at the cross maybe shouldn’t be studied and discussed as much as meditated over and pondered. It should be absorbed, not just described.
“The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him…
They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull)… And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.
It was 9:00 in the morning when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS. They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!’
In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.’ Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
At 12:00 noon darkness came over the whole land until 3:00. At 3:00 Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ – which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
When some of those standing near heard this, they said, ‘Listen, he’s calling Elijah!’
One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. ‘Now, leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,’ he said.
With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.” ~Mark 15:16-37
Remember, Jesus the Christ is God. This is God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth. So, God doesn’t inflict pain on someone else to appease his wrath. God is on the cross, absorbing all the pain and violence and evil of the world into himself. He is becoming our sin for us. Our God is nothing like the pagan deities who demand human blood for their anger to be satisfied. No, our God becomes human so he can offer his own blood.
God died. He died for us. Scripture never says he had to die in order to forgive. But it makes a very big deal out of the fact that he did. Jesus didn’t die on the cross to change God’s mind about us; he died to express God’s heart for us.
This is how he saves us. This is how he loves us. He loves us all the way to the cross. Incessantly, purposefully, willfully, stubbornly, dying on the cross to destroy sin and death and Satan and everything that separates us from God.